Imagine a world where the Justice League failed in their mission to bring about modern Camelot on Earth, either the King Arthur one or the John F. Kennedy New Frontier one. Both fell any way. Writer Grant Morrison, artist Mikel Janin, and colorist Jordie Bellaire explore this avenue plus an ailing Superman in the first issue of their new miniseries Superman and the Authority. This comic is the perfect distillation of Otto Binder and that other British comic book writer with a beard who was a sex pest. Opening with an earnest chat between Superman and JFK and concluding with a gin-swilling British anti-hero vomiting on (a representation of) the world, Superman and the Authority brings together Silver Age and the Dark Age, but the decent Vertigo/Wildstorm stuff, not Lobdell and Nicieza on the X-Books.
Grant Morrison hits this sweet spot by focusing Superman and the Authority #1 by focusing on two characters, Superman and Manchester Black setting up the thesis for the series before the inevitable recruiting drive in next month issue’s. They bring in plenty of bells of whistles with their script, including edgy dialogue and vomit noises for Black and Silver Age deep cuts for Superman. (Kryptonian Thought-Beasts are so cool, which might be the only thing that Geoff Johns and I ever agree on.) However, what truly brings these two disparate worlds and characters together is the visuals of Janin and Bellaire. Mikel Janin’s clean line style with slight Ben-Day dot expertly conveys the nostalgia of the 1960s (Which happens to be the decade Morrison grew up in.), and his film strip layout of astronauts and Superman leaping on the moon along with JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy waving to passerbys captures an era of youth and optimism.
But this all broken up by distorted line-work from Janin and reds and blacks from Bellaire than come in any time characters are stressed and in trouble throughout Superman and the Authority from Manchester Black taking gunfire in a flurry of grid panels to Superman basically taking a life and death gambit with Phantom Zone prisoners to persuade Black to join his team. For this extended sequence, Janin works from odd angles and emphasizes the agony of a slowly depowering Superman, who can’t fly any more aka the opposite of the smiling Silver Age hero, who could breathe in space and turn a lump of coal into diamond with his bare hands. Again, there are lots of reds and repetition of the word “Die” like it’s a Misfits song or something until Manchester Black reluctantly decides to be a hero, and Jordie Bellaire pours on a bit of telekinetic blue because telepathy doesn’t work on drones. In the spirit of Hitman #34, Superman’s true power isn’t heat vision, X-Ray vision, or flight, but the ability to provide hope and inspire even the most gin-sodden anti-hero.
Speaking of hope, some fans and critics were definitely a little bit taken aback by Superman leading The Authority, a team that in past incarnations had no problem killing and doing other various terrible things in the spirit of proactive superheroing. However, Grant Morrison does a good job of making a case for a collaboration between Superman and them without shying away from action, a bit of mystery (Aka shadowy figures talking about kryptonite), and some big ideas. Even though Superman and the Authority opens with JFK and Superman smiling and laying the foundation for both the Justice League and the moon landing, the rest of the book focuses on the Man of Steel’s vulnerability. For example, instead of flying to Manchester Black’s rescue from helicopter sniper gunfire tearing across the pages, he leaps over a building in a single bound (A la New 52/Golden Age Superman), and Mikel Janin abandons his usual clean style for hazy, black lines. Morrison’s dialogue also alludes to this weakness like lines about Superman hovering over the ground for short periods as a kind of “exercise”.
It’s a far cry from a smiling figure flying into the sun, and it’s why Superman has recruited anti-heroes like Manchester to replace his lost powers and strike from the shadows and the margins because trying to change the world from out in the open leads to the assassination of JFK or MLK or RFK, who are all alluded to in Superman and the Authority #1 along with traditional Superman comic book opponents Intergang, Darkseid, and Doomsday. These baddies’ names evoke corruption, pure evil, and the ultimate defeat as Doomsday was solely created to kill Superman. (And boost sales!) They could definitely kick the current Superman’s ass as evidenced by his struggles with some drones from the Phantom Zone, which is where the new incarnation of the Authority comes in. Superman shows Black a literal Round Table when making his sales pitch, but Manchester Black’s vomiting and the overt mention of anti-heroes in Grant Morrison’s dialogue show that this team is going to be the polar opposite of their JLA.
Superman and the Authority #1 finds a balance of hope and cynicism through the characters of real time aged Superman and Manchester Black. Grant Morrison, Mikel Janin, and Jordie Bellaire give Black a true arc in this issue as evidenced by inset panels showing him walk away from the Fortress of Solitude and eventually slowly turning back to help him. Although Morrison makes cracks at traditional superheroes like the X-Men and JLA, their writing comes across as healthy skepticism more so than grimdark for the sake of grimdark. This is what Superman and the Authority the natural next step in their take on superhero team books as it captures the spirit of an age where racism, inequality, and senseless suffering continue with an added bonus of a climate crisis despite the social reforms of the 1960s.
To sum it all up, Superman and the Authority #1 is about the failure of the supposed Age of Aquarius as Morrison, Janin, and Bellaire turn from smiling, well-hewn Superman to a half-naked Manchester Black surrounded by detritus and targeted by the mooks of American imperialism. But there’s always hope even the more commercially successful superhero team failed in their mission to make the world a better place.
Story: Grant Morrison Art: Mikel Janin
Colors: Jordie Bellaire Letters: Steve Wands
Story: 8.8 Art: 9.4 Overall: 9.1 Recommendation: Buy
DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review